One year after Parkland, gun debate rages in states

The year after Parkland has exacerbated the blue state-red state divide over national gun politics.
 
In the 12 months since a gunman took the lives of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, legislators in states across the country have moved to impose new safety and control requirements on firearms, while lawmakers in more conservative states have passed bills solidifying gun rights.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
That contrast is on stark display this week, as both sides make gains while Parkland families mourn their sons and daughters lost a year ago.
 
“Some states are going in the directions of more restrictions, some states are going in the direction of loosening the restrictions, and some states are doing both at the same time,” said Melissa Merry, a political scientist who studies gun policy at the University of Louisville.
 
New Mexico’s state House on Wednesday advanced a measure that would allow law enforcement to take guns away from people who pose a risk to themselves or others, sometimes called a red flag law.
 
In Nevada, the state Senate approved a measure to require background checks on all gun sales, including those conducted in private. The state House is expected to take up that measure on Thursday, the first anniversary of the Parkland shooting. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) has said he will sign the legislation.
 
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Oregon are debating several bills that could require gun owners to purchase locks for their firearms, limit ammunition purchases and block minors from owning assault weapons.
 
And Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) will use the Parkland anniversary to introduce a slate of gun safety measures.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
“A few of us just got sick of waiting for Congress to do the right thing,” Raimondo told The Hill in a recent interview. “We’re not sitting around waiting. We’re taking action.”
 
On the other end of the spectrum, the Kentucky Senate on Thursday will take up a measure that would allow residents to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.
 
Oklahoma’s state House on Wednesday passed a similar measure, which supporters call “constitutional carry,” and an Iowa Senate subcommittee advanced a constitutional carry bill on Monday.
 
Legislators in Missouri and Mississippi have advanced other gun rights measures, too.
 
“For decades, the NRA has been extremely successful in passing pro-Second Amendment legislation,” said Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association (NRA). “We are actively passing legislation to expand [the right to carry concealed weapons] outside of the home.”
 
Despite the mixed record, the massacre in Parkland did spur legislators to take action in ways other mass shootings have not. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted what gun control advocates call meaningful reforms in the last year, ranging from red flag laws, adopted in eight states, to prohibitions on domestic abusers possessing firearms, in 12 states.
 
“It’s fair to say that 2018 is the year of gun safety. The most significant development that the old myth that gun safety was the third rail of American politics was just buried,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a group funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a prominent gun control advocate.
 
The Parkland shooting also prompted legislative action in a way that other horrifying mass shootings — Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla., and even the attack on then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) — did not.
 
“After Sandy Hook, there were actually a lot of laws passed loosening gun laws at the state level,” Merry, the Louisville political scientist, said. “We’re seeing more restrictions at the state level” now.
 
The battle over gun rights and gun control has shifted over time, from a schism between urban liberals and rural Americans to a much more clear-cut divide between Democrats and Republicans. But in the past year, even states with Republican governors and state legislatures have passed new gun safety measures.
 
“This isn’t a matter of what elected officials are doing in states like California and New York and Massachusetts anymore. Gun safety passed in red states, blue states and purple states,” Feinblatt said. “We’re seeing long-term allies of the NRA are breaking with them.”
 
Republican governors in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont signed red flag laws. Republican legislatures in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Utah passed measures to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed a measure expanding background checks to all gun sales.
 
Some of the NRA’s top priorities have stalled, too, even in the reddest states in the country. Constitutional carry bills fell flat in 21 states last year, including Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota. Measures allowing guns in schools failed in most of those same states.
 
Baker, the NRA spokeswoman, said the rise of gun safety legislation is a logical ebb and flow, coming after gun rights supporters passed so many of their own bills in the past several decades.
 
“We have been so successful that there is less legislation that needs to be passed, because we already have pro-Second Amendment laws on the books in the states,” Baker said. “We haven’t seen a shift in that and we continue to be successful on the state level. At the end of the day, a majority of Americans support their constitutional right to self-defense.”